Ex- Enterprise Florida’s Gray Swoope joins Tampa’s hunt for corporate headquarters

July 11, 2015

Robert Trigaux, Tampa Bay Times
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Tampa’s pursuit of a corporation (or two) willing to relocate its headquarters here just gained added muscle with the addition of Gray Swoope, the former chief of Enterprise Florida, and his new consulting firm to a task force dedicated to pitching this metro area as a hidden gem for Fortune 1000 companies.
“From my role at Enterprise Florida” — which Swoope left in early 2015 after four years — “the state of Florida is getting a lot of looks” by relocating businesses, Swoope said.
“I think the timing is right for headquarters in Tampa.”
The Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. retained Swoope and his consulting firm, VisionFirst Advisors, for one year to help counsel and lead three EDC business development trips — one around September, and two more after January when winter is in full bloom — to target markets in the Northeast and Midwest.
Tallahassee-based VisionFirst is chaired by former Mississippi Gov. and former Republican National Committee chair Haley Barbour. The consulting firm is owned by the Mississippi law firm Butler Snow LLP. Aside from economic development experience, look for that team’s extensive network and influence to help open the doors of those CEOs and corporate boards willing to consider a new headquarters city.
EDC chief Rick Homans says he jumped at the chance to become a client of Swoope’s. Homans worked with him on job-recruiting efforts in the Tampa Bay area and respects Swoope’s work ethic. Besides, Homans smiles, he figures if the EDC is one of VisionFirst’s early clients, Swoope will be all the more motivated to help the task force quest succeed.
The EDC already is involved with four companies that are at least considering a headquarters move to Tampa, among other potential cities.
“This is the first time in most people’s memory we’ve had such a level of activity from this type of project,” Homans says. “So you’ve got to build that pipeline of prospects before you can win a deal. They do not happen overnight.”
Swoope plans to be in Tampa on Monday to swap strategies with the 30-person task force and consider the best prospects for face-to-face meetings. The task force is currently chaired by TECO president Gordon Gillette and Sykes Enterprises CEO Chuck Sykes, both Tampa veterans of economic development work.
So far, the task force and EDC staff have researched CEO perceptions of this area and developed a prospect list of 350-plus corporations.
Homans says he talks often with Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, developer of a 40-acre, $1 billion downtown Tampa project. With both the EDC and Vinik eager to recruit corporate HQs, neither hunting party wants to stumble over the other.
Swoope agrees it would be great for Tampa to land a sizable headquarters with a broadly familiar corporate name. But if a lesser-known company and maybe a few of its peers want to move here? Well, that’s just fine.
Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com.